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Exercise balls used to control squirming kids

Orlando Sentinel

Eustice, Fla.—When Seminole Springs Elementary teacher Stephanie Burnett told her colleagues she was going to issue bouncy, inflatable stability balls to her wiggly 6- and 7- year old students instead of desk chairs, the initial reaction was shock.

“When people realized what I intended to do the first thing people said was, “I think it’s great, but I think you’re crazy,” said Burnett, 31, who is in her third year teaching.  “You’re not going to have chairs at all?”

But Burnett went ahead and purchased—on her own dime—springy, bright-yellow exercise balls for each of her squirmy first graders this school year.  She hoped the balls would get their wiggles under control so they could focus on school.  IT worked.  Students who slouched in their chairs or even dozed during lessons changed dramatically after sitting on stability balls for several weeks.

The plastic exercise balls were first developed in the 1960’s for physical therapy but have since been used in gym workouts to rev up traditional push-ups, sit-ups or yoga moves.  The idea is for the ball’s instability to improve a user’s own stability, coordination and posture.  The same concept seems to work with a growing number of schoolchildren across the country, according to research but with an added benefit ---it keeps kids engaged during class.

“we spend from first grade, to college and university looking at the back of someone’s head, “ said John Kilbourne, a professor of movement science at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.  “A ball allows for much better range of motion with your neighbors.”

In 2008, Kilbourne replaced students’ desk chairs for 14 weeks with stability balls and found 98 percent of them favored the ball chairs.  They reported positives such as improved posture and better attention levels.  Kilbourne now fields daily questions from teachers about how they can do the same in their classes.

More recent research conducted by educatiors and medical researchers in Aroostook County, Maine, schools and released this year found 78 percent of teachers said handwriting iproved in students who used stability balls instead of desk chairs.  Students were also less squirmy and even improved or maintained test scores, according to the study.  Other research from the University of Kentucky in 2011 suggests the balls can have a “dramatic effect” on students with attention and hyperactivity problems.

Kilbourne said the balls appeal to “our need for play and playful active learning, “ which represents a stark contrast to how educators used classroom spaces in prior decades.

Distributed by MCT Information Services